Sunday, August 30, 2015

What makes a nation great?

This first reading today ends with a question: What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today? But what does it mean to be just.

We use the word in two ways.

When I began my law studies with the Jesuits in Rome, one of the first things we had learn was Ulpian's definition of Justice

Constans et Perpetua Voluntas Ius Suum cuique tribuendi

The constant and perpetual will to give to each person that which is their right

This is the virtue of Justice which we should all strive to have. If we are truly just people then we strive always and everywhere to respect the rights of every human being. I recently heard someone, in reference to a group of people they obviously didn't like, utter the sentence, "They don't have any rights."

This brings us to the second meaning of the word "just." Not only should we be just, that is, possess the virtue of Justice, but our laws must be just, and the system for enforcing those laws must be just. But that raises the question, what makes a law just.

Some would say that in a democracy it is "the will of the people." But if that is the ultimate guide, you do not end up with justice, you end up with what John Adams called "the tyranny of the majority." Justice is rarely found by taking a poll.

For us as Christians the answer is simple, in order for any law to be just, it must correspond to God's law, and more specifically the law Christ taught us, the Law of Love. To some that may sound naive, it may sound like a violation of the first amendment but it is neither.

It is the ultimate protection for each of us. It recognizes that our rights do not come from the people, or the constitution; they come from God. And any law that violates the God given rights of any person is unjust, no matter how many people want it.

Too many people seem to be busy fanning the flames of anger and division, with tragic consequences. It is time for the Christians among us to return to the basics: "love your neighbor as yourself", or phrased in th negative in the Old Testament "Do to no one what you yourself hate."

The first reading today posses a question:what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today. We like to think of ourselves as a great nation this reading reminds us that what makes a nation great is not power or wealth but the justice of its laws.